“My little wife,” he said, “if you cared for me as I care for you, you would not feel the want of visitors just now.”
And there was no sophistry in this speech. He had come to the conviction that Lucy ought to have been his wife, but he did care for Sibylla very much. The prospect of a house full of guests at the present moment, appeared most displeasing to him, if only as a matter of taste.
“Put it off for a few weeks, Sibylla.”
Sibylla pouted. “It is of no use preaching, Lionel. If you are to be a preaching husband, I shall be sorry I married you. Fred was never that.”
Lionel’s face turned blood-red. Sibylla put up her hand, and drew it carelessly down.
“You must let me have my own way for this once,” she coaxingly said. “What’s the use of my bringing all those loves of things from Paris, if we are to live in a dungeon, and nobody’s to see them? I must invite them, Lionel.”
“Very well,” he answered, yielding the point. Yielding it the more readily from the consciousness above spoken of.
“There’s my dear Lionel! I knew you would never turn tyrant. And now I want something else.”
“What’s that?” asked Lionel.
“A cheque? I gave you one this morning, Sibylla.”
“Oh! but the one you gave me is for housekeeping—for Mary Tynn, and all that. I want one for myself. I am not going to have my expenses come out of the housekeeping.”
Lionel sat down to write one, a good-natured smile on his face. “I’m sure I don’t know what you will find to spend it in, after all the finery you bought in Paris,” he said, in a joking tone. “How much shall I fill it in for?”
“As much as you will,” replied Sibylla, too eagerly. “Couldn’t you give it me in blank, and let me fill it in?”
He made no answer. He drew it for L100, and gave it her.
“Will that do, my dear?”
She drew his face down again caressingly. But, in spite of the kisses left upon his lips, Lionel had awoke to the conviction, firm and undoubted, that his wife did not love him.
The September afternoon sun streamed into the study at Verner’s Pride, playing with the bright hair of Lionel Verner. His head was bending listlessly over certain letters and papers on his table, and there was a wearied look upon his face. Was it called up by the fatigue of the day? He had been out with some friends in the morning; it was the first day of partridge shooting, and they had bagged well. Now Lionel was home again, had changed his attire, and was sitting down in his study—the old study of Mr. Verner. Or, was the wearied look, were the indented upright lines between the eyes, called forth by inward care?
Those lines were not so conspicuous when you last saw him. Twelve or fourteen months have elapsed since then. A portion of that time only had been spent at Verner’s Pride. Mrs. Verner was restless; ever wishing to be on the wing; living but in gaiety. Her extravagance was something frightful, and Lionel did not know how to check it. There were no children; there had been no signs of any; and Mrs. Verner positively made the lack into a sort of reproach, a continual cause for querulousness.